Technical sales representatives play an educational role in today's horticulture industry. Andy Peterson, owner of Spectrum Sales, joins The Grower & The Economist to discuss the shift from land-grant universities to privatization and sales contractors. In this episode, we talk about the next generation of growers, the need for leadership training programs, and the quick pace of the modern agriculture industry.
Andy’s agriculture career began in a quarter-acre greenhouse at the age of 16. There was no controlled humidity and the explosion of color was nothing short of a “sensory overload.” His path led him to distributor sales positions at BioSafe where he filled shoes as a distributor and a disseminator of information. Andy describes this period as the “death of the land-grant extension agents and the rise of the distributor salesperson.” He needed to have the product mix and production knowledge applicable to various operations. He also describes an inherent limitation, compared to land-grants, that would not provide information about products they did not carry due to liabilities.
Andy also participated in the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) panel during
Plantpeddler’s Educate the Educators program, a nationwide young plant provider that hosts interactive workshops for Ag instructors. We get to hear first-hand about the demand for horticulture curriculum in high school and vocational schools! His refreshing response is that geometry and math conversions are equally important for operating a greenhouse. We all agreed that there is passion for horticulture; but, improved technical training and direction will be key for the future of Controlled Environment Agriculture. Opportunities will draw on the “artist farmer”, as Andy puts it - the intangibles and systems integration thinking. Some of the other programs we mention are Iowa State, Wisconsin River Falls, Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, AmericanHort, and Carlin.
One of the biggest opportunities that Andy mentioned in today’s industry is commercial packaging driven by both consumer and grower demand. We have commercially viable packaging that is shippable, storable and usable. He gives the example of UC Davis’ Pest management program exploring fungus that can eat pests!
Historically, land-grant universities funded traveling extension agents to visit growers. Budgets were cut leading to privatization and the majority of Agriculture PhD students going directly to the private sector. It opened the door to contractors to take on the education role and removed the dependency on federal funding; however, it will necessitate a new continued education budget line for growers. Andy envisions leadership training broken out into entry, grower, and production management level, with an advanced master program.
“Free education in the Midwest isn't happening this year.”
Our conversation highlighted three major trends in the horticulture industry:
Land grant universities are becoming privatized i.e. fewer tenured professors, new contractors
Industry research and products are sophisticating
Knowledge gaps are becoming more prevalent
Andy emphasizes that the industry isn’t waiting for academia to financially support one study on one crop, for better or worse.
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